It's that scary, spooky time of the year again! The time when the days grow shorter, the nights longer, and the colorful leaves fall ominously from the trees. In fact, where I currently live in a quaint college town in Minnesota, it's beginning to look a lot like winter already! Halloween is just around the corner, and so is ol' man winter.
To celebrate this season where we slow down and begin turning even further inward, I've been experimenting with a lights-out yoga practice. I light one candle and do my sadhana in the dark. The darkness allows me to deepen my practice of pratyahara, so that I can focus more intensely on the yoga poses at hand.
If you're wanting to get into the spirit of the season or just looking for a new way to deepen your yoga practice, practicing in the dark is a powerful way to connect with your mind and body. It can be done in a dark room (with or without candles) or with the assistance of a blindfold. This will add a whole new element to your practice. You will find that by removing the sense of sight, your mind and body will be challenged and you will experience yoga in a whole new way.
Here are three unique benefits to practicing yoga with the lights off and more tips on how to go about it.
Practicing in the dark presents a new challenge even for the most accomplished yogi. When we remove sight, our balance is shifted. You will not be able to steady yourself by focusing on a drishti (point of focus) or through the awareness of your surroundings. Keeping yourself steady and balanced while practicing yoga in the dark takes concentration, which is achieved by looking inward, harnessing your other senses, and really focusing on the body and the breath. This process allows you to look within and connect with your body in a very deep way. In many ways, this gets to the heart of what yoga is all about: a mind-body connection that is achieved by filtering out the world around you and finding peace and awareness within.
(You may be wondering Why It's So Hard to Achieve Inner Peace.)
Practicing yoga in the dark is a great way to free yourself from observation and judgment. Not only will people not be able to see what you’re doing, you will not be able to compare yourself with others or observe what you are doing in a mirror. This freedom will allow you to dive deeply into your practice, freed from comparisons or obligations. You will find that in the dark, you have the freedom to look silly, tumble out of poses, and try new things without the hesitation that you may feel in a class setting. It also allows you the freedom to do what you want. Is your teacher queuing one thing, but your body is requesting something else? Go for it, nobody is watching. In the dark, you can tailor your practice, listen to your body, try new things, all while testing your balance and focus.
(More on freedom in Be Brave, Be Free: 2 Yogis' Philosophy on Achieving Inner Freedom.)
Perfect for Pratyahara
Pratyahara is the fifth limb of The Eight Limbs of Yoga, as outlined in Patanjali’s YogaSutras. Pratyahara is the practice of detaching from our senses (which connect us to the outside world) and focusing within. By actually removing one of our senses (sight), we challenge ourselves to look inward and quiet the mind. Through this practice, you will learn how to withdraw and find deep self-awareness.
(For more information on this self-practice, here's Pratyahara: The Fifth Limb of Yoga.)
Tips on Practicing Yoga in the Dark
While some studios offer yoga classes or workshops in the dark, this may be something that you end up practicing on your own. Use these tips when you first start practicing yoga in the dark:
- Use a blindfold: Choose a blindfold over just closing your eyes. This will remove the ability for you to simply open your eyes if you become uncomfortable or feel unbalanced.
- Start slow: As with anything new, it’s important to take your time when you first get started. Your balance and sense of where you are will be altered, so you will want to start with some basic poses to avoid injury. Begin on your back or in simple seated postures. Notice how it feels to not have the sense of sight before trying anything too difficult.
- Be aware of your location: Your mat will help you to be aware of your location in the room, but you will still want to remove any obstacles that could get in your way if your location shifts or you lose balance at any time during your practice.
- As you get more comfortable practicing in the dark, you can start trying more complex poses and flows. Your practice may not be as complex as it is with your eyes open, but that's okay because you are getting many other benefits.
Deeper in the Darkness
As you can see, practicing yoga in the dark can be a truly transformative experience. With less visual distractions, you naturally deepen your experience. If any of this sounds intriguing to you, I encourage you to try it out. You'll no doubt find some solace in the solitude, and a depth to your practice that simply can't be experienced in a light and bright environment.
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